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Can critics capitalize on Stephen Harper's prorogation mistake?

EKOS pollster Frank Graves is wondering today how pleased the Prime Minister is with the advice he received from his pollsters and strategists who told him: "No problem Mr. Harper, nobody is going to give a hoot."

Mr. Graves, of course, is referring to the reasoning around the Stephen Harper's decision to shut down Parliament for five weeks during the Olympic games. It's a strategy that seems to be backfiring on the government.

"All is quiet over Christmas, nothing is happening, Mr. Harper makes this announcement," Mr. Graves says. But "the problem is that they didn't really think through."

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He wonders why no one asked, "if that's a wrong guess then what happens?"

"And I think the problem is now you can see it has sort of lit the fuse that ignited a whole range of broader frustrations with the government."

Mr. Graves's poll today shows the Conservatives now effectively tied with Michael Ignatieff's Liberals in public opinion - the 10 to 15 point lead enjoyed by the Tories in the fall has evaporated. And the EKOS figures are consistent with two other polls that released yesterday.

One of the problems with the prorogation decision, Mr. Graves says, is the "oscillating" reasons given by the Prime Minister for the shutdown, which have ranged from wanting to recalibrate the agenda to stock-market stability.

Mr. Graves says Canadians know what prorogation is and they saw this move as undemocratic.

However, all is not so bad for the Prime Minister and his team. Mr. Graves's survey was taken over several days - from Jan. 6 to Jan. 12 - and Tory fortunes were rebounding in the last few days of the poll.

On Jan. 6, the Conservatives were at 28.3 per cent compared to 34 per cent by Jan. 12. Averaged all together, however, the Tories emerge with 30.9 per cent. The Liberals, meanwhile, began on the first day of the poll with 23.6 per cent and ended with 26.6 per cent. Their global total for the poll period was 29.3 per cent.

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The EKOS analysis says this suggests "it may be difficult for the opposition to sustain public attention on the issue of prorogation."

(Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)

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